MTHFR.

It stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase – or mother f*cker.

It’s the gene that sets the body’s detoxification process in motion by creating a long chain of enzymes, proteins and hormones the body needs to get rid of toxins. I’ve written before about how many toxins everyone ingests through city water, new clothes, mattress, plastic food containers, body wash, laundry detergent, carpet, cleaning fluids, etc. The toxic load on everyone is greater than it was 1,000 years ago, and it’s contributes to health issues of everyone – especially people diagnosed with autism.

MTHFR.

Studies have found that patients diagnosed with autism have a mutation in the MTHFR gene, meaning from the start, the detoxification process doesn’t get going like it should. My friend Joana – whose two boys were diagnosed with autism – had her whole family tested for this genetic mutation and found that she and her boys had a faulty MTHFR. And actually, studies have found, too, that “parents share similar metabolic deficits in methylation capacity” with their children with autism, according to a study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders from 2008.

Another study by Dan Rossignol and Frye in Psychiatry from 2012 found that about one in three children with autism have mitochondrial dysfunction, and that dysfunction is correlated to autism severity. My husband and I saw Dr. Rossignol talk at the TACA Real Help Now Midwest Conference last weekend, and it was incredible how much information supports the link between gut problems and autism. Possibly the most impressive statistic I heard at the conference was that 74 percent of children with autism show improvement after helping the body’s detoxification process (reported by the Autism Research Institute).

“It’s beginning to look like autism is a medical problem rather than psychological,” Rossignol said at the conference. Of course, this line of thinking isn’t really just “beginning”—Rossignol showed a headline from an 1889 medical lecture titled “Insanity* Proceed[s] from the Colon” given by a Chicago doctor and professor—but rather is beginning to more accepted.

Cooling down a pumpkin “pie” Jason made

 

So we had Logan tested for the MTHFR mutation with a test called 23AndMe. Logan had to spit into a big tube. He cried and shouted about it and refused to cooperate; in the end, we ended up siphoning saliva out of his mouth with a syringe. It wasn’t the most painful thing we’ve done, considering, but it definitely made me want to swear. MTHFR. Hopefully, it’ll tell us something to make it worth it.

If he tests positive for a faulty MTHFR gene, that means his body is not drawing out toxins like it should. Which further supports our thinking I wrote about here, that we suspect Logan’s rash was stemming from canned foods—not the food itself, but the nickel in the can and all the chemicals cans are sprayed with before being filled. With a nickel allergy common in Jason’s family, there’s a good chance Logan is allergic to it, too—and if his body is unable to detoxify, that allergen simply sat there, keeping him sick.

But in the meantime, while we wait for results, I’m happy to report that Logan has been having great days at daycare; he even earned his orange belt at karate! We are 51 days into our GAPS journey and started Stage 4 this weekend. As always, I wasn’t really sure if it was time to transition or not—we haven’t seen much physical change. But we stayed in Stage 3 for about four weeks, and the lack of variety was killing me (though Logan was taking it like a champ).

Waiting to test for his orange belt

Waiting to test for his orange belt

I’ve been seeing benefits from eliminating sugar and taking a probiotic, too. I now wake up every morning at 4 a.m., not groggy and icky but energetic and eager to spend an extra hour writing. My toes, which have been gross and itchy since I was in high school, have also started to get better.

“It’s really crazy how it all comes down to diet,” said Dr. Anju Usman at the TACA conference. “The #1 thing you can do for your child is clean up their diet.”

 

P.S. As I type this, an email pops up that Logan’s test results were inconclusive due to small sample size; we’ll need to get him to spit again and resubmit. MTHF*R.

Surviving Stage One

“Hey,” my husband mumbled in a low voice, casting a sideways glance at me.  The kids were at the kitchen island, as they usually are when we arrive home from daycare, chattering and vying for my attention.  “There are cookies in the cupboard for you.”

“Nope!” I smiled.  “I’m doing the diet.”

“You haven’t cheated?”

I shook my head, then admitted I had taken one bite of an apple during Logan’s class field trip to the apple orchard.  He’d begged and begged to have one of the ones he’d picked, and it broke my heart to say no.  He devoured it like it was the most delicious treat known to man–I was worried for a second he was even going to eat the seeds and stem.  But other than that, we haven’t strayed from GAPS Stage 1-legal food.  (I even made it through my Thursday coffee shop run with a coworker without ordering anything other than herbal decaf tea.)

I couldn't say no to an apple during a class field trip.

I couldn’t say no to an apple during a class field trip.

We are now on Day 5, and things are looking up.  All week Logan has had fabulous, focused days at school, earning a “rock star” badge every day.  He had the best night he’s ever had in karate class, following the instructor the entire time without getting distracted and wiggly.  

Of course, meals are still another story.  Every time it’s time to eat, Logan approaches the table with apprehension.  Most of the time he refuses to eat during the day.  Snack times are the worst, ranging from all-out meltdown for a half an hour to a quivering lip for a few seconds.  He hates all broth and will sit at the table for two hours rather than taking one sip.  Even the “Shredder” chicken, which is shredded chicken simmered in broth and named after Logan’s favorite Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles character, doesn’t appeal to him.   (I devour it.)

Our world right now is basically turned upside down.  We’re installing hardwood floors, so all the furniture from two rooms is piled in the kitchen.  This obviously makes things harder, but at the same time, I feel like GAPS has simplified things, too.  Now when I open our fridge, I don’t have to wonder to cook, because all I see are five 1-quart mason jars filled with broth, vegetables, and meat.  And even I can pour broth into a large saucepan and add veggies and meat to simmer.  I kind of like it, actually.

Boiled squash, chicken and onions.

Boiled squash, chicken and onions.

And despite still feeling drained and heavy if it’s been too long between meals since I’ve eaten, overall, I believe I have more energy.  Now when the kids go to bed, I don’t instantly collapse in my bed.  I actually have energy to go wash dishes.  And when my alarm goes off in the mornings, I don’t feel like I’m rising from the dead and stumbling downstairs to cook and wash another round of dishes (aside from meal-time meltdowns, dishes are the worst part of the diet — I now wash dishes before work and after work.)  I’ve also lost 8 pounds, though losing weight isn’t something I wanted to do.

And I think Logan is cheerier, too–again, except for meal times.  And those will get better as we move on to Stage 2, which we’ll start tomorrow.  We get to have ghee!  And we’ll try introducing yogurt, too, which we’ve held off on until now because the casein makes me hesitate a bit.  Hopefully, as we are able to introduce more foods, meals will get easier.

Stay tuned for Stage 2.

Feeling: Dedicated

My shopping list for the next five days:

  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • 2 heads broccoli
  • 1 big bag of carrots
  • 2 butternut squashes
  • 2 bags of onions
  • 1 bunch leeks
  • Ginger root
  • 4 pounds hamburger
  • 4 pounds roast
  • 2 whole chickens
  • Case of mineral water

Week 46: Sports and sandwiches, SIR!

I feel almost guilty in admitting: I have not watched any of the World Cup.  I say it makes me feel sort of guilty because it seems like the entire world stops for this tournament–even the annoying talk radio show my husband listens to every morning comments on it; you can practically hear them shrugging as they debate a sport they probably don’t care an ounce for.  But they know they have to, because it’s sports.

In sort of the same way, I feel oddly obligated to like sports and try to help Logan like sports.  When I was a kid, sports seemed ubiquitous thanks to my mother, my brother, my cousins and everyone else, it seemed; now that I’m married, they’re still there thanks to my husband.  He’s always recalling his favorite childhood memories of playing baseball or football until the sun went down on some grassy neighborhood field.  

It’s probably a common blow for parents of kids with autism, that their kid won’t grow up playing sports like they loved.  I know I read about it often enough.  But I also read about the ones who do love playing sports from time to time.  So we enrolled Logan in a mini-sports camp for a week this summer, hoping he’ll be turned on to soccer or T-ball (at least I was hoping for that; I know Jason was hoping Logan would make a few friends, which I told him would be pretty hard for him to do when his normal greeting to meeting a brand-new peer is still something like “Remember when Gavin ate that sandwich?”)

Logan, in a rare engaged moment from sports camp.

Logan, in a rare engaged moment from sports camp.

The first two days were rough.  He didn’t like waiting his turn to dribble the soccer ball all the way down the field, he didn’t want anyone else to have the green ball, and he clearly struggled to understand the rules for games like Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (that’s Duck, Duck, Goose for any readers not from Minnesota) or Sharks and Minnows, a soccer game.  Even Tag was hard for him — he loved being “It” and tagging people, but he’d cry and grow frustrated whenever he wasn’t “It” and that he was now supposed to avoid the “It” person.  He spent most of the morning either being lazy, sitting down in the field or pick grass, or being too aggressive, running into other kids or just leaning into them to bump them with his body.  He did better as the week progressed, though, so perhaps there is still hope.

Or maybe team sports just won’t be Logan’s cup of tea.  By coincidence, he also had two karate classes this week, thanks to a daycare friend’s birthday party that was held at the martial arts gym in town.  And it turned out, he loved it.

For one thing, there wasn’t as much down time as there was in sports camp.  The whole class followed the instructor’s moves; there was no waiting in line to take a turn.  And it was all very concrete–the instructor said kick your leg, and he meant kick your leg.  None of this “Run home! Run home!” when what was meant was run along the dirt path to the first base, then the second, and finally back to where you started with the bat.  Logan was able to jump and scream, and he didn’t have to worry about being too aggressive because he was simply kicking in front of him, not a person.  His favorite part, he said, was getting to yell, “Yes, SIR!”

Logan can easily focus on imitating his karate instructor.

Logan can easily focus on imitating his karate instructor.

And martial arts are supposed to be fantastic for kids with autism.  Its focus on discipline and respect, and even the repetitiveness of the motions is all helpful to many kids — but especially those with autism or ADHD.  Even though I was aware of these things going into the karate class, hearing the instructor talk about the importance of maintaining eye contact with the students made me sure this would be a good fit for Logan.  And–bonus–Logan said he wanted to go back!

What I remember most about sports from growing up is the constant driving around to all the practices, games and meets.  I remember gulping down an apple after school before basketball practice, which was just before CCD or whatever else we had going on.  This week I’ve once again bemoaned the fact that staying committed to Logan’s diet means no easy or quick food.

Or–at least it did.  Luckily, my mom found these paleo sandwich wraps at the natural food store, made from coconut meat.  They fit with the Body Ecology Diet, and even better, Logan loves them.  Doubly even better, they make lunches and meals when we have sports or other activities after work super easy.  On the not-so-great side, they cost $10 for seven wraps.  But if it means Logan can finally eat sandwiches, and if it gives us at least one quick and easy option, I suppose it’s worth it.

Logan’s new favorite food: ham and (fake) cheese sandwiches!

Feeling: Flexible

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